Restructuring the Case For Life
In his latest article for Christianity Today, one of my favorite Christian apologists, Dinesh D’Souza, argues that it is no longer sufficient – and indeed has not been for some time – for the pro-life movement to assert the humanity of the unborn as its primary argument against abortion. Assessing abortion rights as the necessary foundation of the sexual revolution, D’Souza writes,
If I’m on the right track, pro-life arguments are not likely to succeed by simply continuing to stress the humanity of the fetus. The opposition already knows this, as probably do most women who have an abortion. Rather, the pro-life movement must take into account the larger cultural context of the sexual revolution that invisibly but surely sustains the triumphant advocates of abortion.
It won’t be easy, but somehow the case against abortion must include a case against sexual libertinism. It is time to return to the drawing board.
I think D’Souza is on the right track, and that it is time to return to the drawing board.
I attempted to do so, at least in a very preliminary and rudimentary way, in an article and subsequent essays (here and here) on abortion and consumerism. The sexual revolution of the 1960s is, in my view, the consequence of a materialist-consumer paradise created through the fortunes of the post-war boom and in response to the challenges of Soviet Russia, which during those decades was not a lumbering failure but the world’s second strongest and fastest growing economy.
I don’t wish to return to the topic of consumerism here, as important as I believe it is for an understanding of the Culture of Death (indeed, John Paul II once described the victims of abortion as “victims of consumerism”). But I do wish to address other ways in which we might begin discussing the abortion issue that do not focus exclusively on the humanity of the unborn child, a premise that is increasingly unchallenged and even accepted by some of the leading commentators and advocates of the pro-choice movement.
The strength of the pro-choice movement has never been derived from outright denials of the humanity of the unborn child, but from the manner in which it presents itself – as a champion of women, and particularly poor and minority women. Abortion is almost always referred to as a “woman’s issue” and all too often pro-lifers end up stuck in the rhetorical boxes created for them by their opponents. We end up somehow arguing against women. Of course much pro-life literature and propaganda focuses on the harm that abortion does to women as well as children, but all this tends to do is reinforce the notion that abortion is then, if not a “woman’s issue”, a mother’s issue.
Perhaps you can tell where I am going with this. In my view, what is often missing from the abortion debate are men. Behind every unwanted pregnancy is a man, and behind many abortions – possibly the vast majority of abortions – are the actions of men: of husbands, boyfriends, friends and fathers. Abortion is not always (and I have to imagine, hardly ever) the decision of the idealistically independent, strong-willed woman determined to do as she pleases in spite of a patriarchal society. This is a radical feminist fantasy.
Rather abortion is often the decision of a woman who has, in one way or another, been done wrong by the father of her child. Perhaps the father is absent, having fled the scene of his crime. Perhaps he is still in the area but unwilling to accept his responsibilities. Perhaps he is pressuring, even threatening his girlfriend or wife into having an abortion, threatening to leave her if she doesn’t. Perhaps the father of the pregnant woman has utterly failed in his duties as a father – to protect his children, and to support them when they need it the most. Perhaps the mother and father together, out of a desire to avoid having to take care of a grandchild, are pressuring their daughter into an abortion.
At least one study by the Elliot Institute which sought to discover women’s reason’s for abortion found that “in 95% of all cases, the male partner played a central role in the decision.” The study also cites the testimony of a security guard at a Massachusetts clinic, who said that “women were routinely threatened and abused by their boyfriends or husbands who took them to the clinics to make sure they underwent their scheduled abortions.”
I don’t doubt for a moment that almost every pro-lifer understands the role that fathers play in the abortion of children. But what we need to do is incorporate it into our political program. The role of men in abortion must become more widely broadcast, it must be expanded beyond the occasional nod it gets in an obscure journal or pamphlet. When abortion is discussed on national television, in the major newspapers, on the radio, in any venue where a multitude of people will be listening or watching, the role of men must occupy a much greater place that discussion.
It must be done, first of all, because it is the truth, and as studies have shown, a truth that must not be ignored. Secondly, it must be done in order to demonstrate that to be pro-life is not to oppose women, but to oppose all who would abandon their parental responsibilities and obligations. It is high time we acknowledge the partial truth behind one of the most commonly used pro-choice slogans: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be legal” or some variation thereof. It is only a partial truth, of course, but it does highlight a failure to hold men accountable for their own sexual promiscuity and often appalling behavior towards their pregnant wives and girlfriends.
We in the pro-life movement, in other words, must do the exact opposite of what the radical secular feminists and sexual revolutionaries wished to do, and are still trying to do. Whereas their answer to the double-standards to which women were traditionally held to was to remove all standards and insist that the sins and crimes of women become as acceptable as those of men, we must hold men to higher standards. For my part, I would insist that any reversal of Roe. vs. Wade and any criminalization of abortion include penalties for any man whose actions can be demonstrated to have contributed to an illegal abortion. Whatever charges could be brought against a woman who seeks or obtains an abortion, should be brought against any father who through negligence, coercion, or co-conspiracy also shares responsibility in the crime.
Whatever we decide to do, we must make it clear that abortion is not a woman’s issue. The role men play in abortion is too great for us to accept this label. The contemptible behavior of the bullies and scoundrels who drag the mothers of their children to the abortion mills must become a central concern of the pro-life movement.